CHAPTER II.

VISIONS OF THE PAST.


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All the glories and ambitions of the past are connected with the present by a link that is as immeasurable as is that which binds us to the future. If we look towards the future the vista is a short one, and we meet a quick darkness that rolls up before our vision like boiling clouds of inky hue. If we set our eyes to pierce the past we may look down an avenue of no inconsiderable extent, but the view ends in no less certain darkness, and the mind remains equally unsatisfied whether we look toward the west or the east of human life.

The generation that is contemporaneous with the telegraph has clasped hands with that which never heard of steamboat or locomotive, and thus hastening backward but a few paces, or life periods, we meet with those who were thrilled with the news of another world discovered beyond the Atlantic. But behind the century that enlarged the world by one-half, lie commercial nations whose thousands of vessels ploughed the limited seas. Twenty-five hundred years ago the Phoenicians, the Zidonians, and the Tyrians carried on a trade of fabulous importance by means of ships that covered the Mediterranean. Then Carthage established by Tyrians nearly 1000 years B.C. grew grand with her white sails mirrored in almost every wave of the sea, and retained her maritime importance until the second Punic war, or about 200 B.C. when Rome drove her commerce from the sea, and fifty years later the city was destroyed by Scipio the Younger, and its site ploughed and sowed with salt, while the last three hundred survivors were sold into slavery. Carthage in her glory had sent her ships not only to every port on the Mediterranean and up the Nile, but they sailed out through the Gates of Gibraltar, around the west coast of Africa, up the Niger River, then back and along the high coasts of Europe, and to the Azores where the Carthaginians and Norsemen met in valorous rivalry.

In the eleventh century Venice rose like Venus from the sea, and from the lagoons into which Attila had driven the people, not only a magnificent city sprang into being, but a maritime power of unrivalled proportions grew into existence and which continued in undisputed mastership of the sea until near the end of the i4th century when in a war with Genoa she was brought to the verge of ruin. But from the calamities which befell her she soon rallied and reached the Climax other prosperity in 1433, and which she retained until the discovery of America by Columbus diverted her commerce into new channels and she gradually declined; lastly Napoleon destroyed her independence in 1797 and she became a shuttlecock for the battle-doors of Austria and Italy.

BELIEF RESPECTING THE EARTH'S SHAPE.

But though sails had long whitened the great sea, and adventurous spirits had penetrated African wilds and the wondrously rich regions of the far east, the condition of the most advanced nation was deplorable for ignorance and superstition. From the time of Homer to that of Columbus, the world was believed to be a plain covered with a hemispheric dome, on the outer edges of
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which were the battlements of Satan rising up to dispute with heaven for the souls of the dead. Pythagoras in the sixth century, and Plato, Aristotle, and other great philosophers and geographers taught the sphericity of the earth, yet a belief in their theory never obtained a substantial footing, and up to the Middle Ages it was not only popularly opposed by the people but rejected by many distinguished writers of the Augustan Age.

Formaleoni claims that the Venetians discovered the West Indies prior to Columbus. But not only long anterior but even in the Middle Ages there was a belief very general in the existence of fabulous islands in the Atlantic, and out of the legends connected with them very largely grew the many superstitions connected with the sea. Of the several mythical islands which had a prominent place in early beliefs, a few only of the 35,000 which Ptolemy assigned to the Atlantic may be mentioned. There were the Eternal Islands, island of the Two Sorcerers, island of Bimini, on which was the fountain of youth, Saxonburg, where the fates lured sailors to shipwreck, the islands of Happiness, and Fortunate islands. Then there was the "Island of the Hand of Satan," mentioned by Formaleoni and also by Humboldt, and there was Antillia and Satanaxio with a strait between mentioned by Beccarrio, and the Island of the Seven Cities, which is believed to have been Brazil. There is, indeed, a map in St. Mark's library at Venice, drawn in 1450, whereon Brazil is represented, and Humboldt shows that Brazil-wood was imported into Europe from the East Indies long before the time of Columbus. Brazil was formerly placed a hundred leagues west of Ireland, and was called Vanishing Island, because while people implicitly believed in its existence, the reports of its discovery having been so well verified, yet numerous expeditions in quest of the same failed to reach its shores. This is the incomplete and unsatisfactory record of the expeditions which are supposed to have sailed westward from Mediterranean shores.

THE VIKING NAVIGATORS.

The preceding are hardly better than traditions, in which little or no confidence can be placed. But there was a people in the north,, occupying Norway, a race that had been driven out of Asia by Tartar hordes and which had wandered westward until they found a lodgment in the Scandinavian Peninsula. These Norsemen were a bold and warlike people, who set about immediately founding a nation which they established so firmly that it has endured, to this day. Their restless disposition did not permit them to long confine themselves to the country whereon they had established themselves as a nation, for living chiefly by conquest they attacked the nations of the south, carrying their invasions through England (which then belonged to France), and into northern Spain. Nothing was able to arrest their progress, and they moved westward, making themselves masters of Italy, Greece and Sicily. At first heathens, they afterwards embraced Christianity, and led the van of the crusaders in the war for the recovery of the Holy Land. But while a portion of the nation was engaged at war with Greece, Italy and France, other bold spirits had set out on the high seas, encouraged by their victories over the French in England, and sailed in quest of new lands. They soon also distributed themselves in colonies on the islands that were then known as the Faroes, Hebrides, Orkneys, and Shetland Islands, and directly became the most adventurous as well as accomplished sailors of the age. They discovered Iceland in about the year 860, though it is maintained by some writers that the Greek philosopher, Pytheas, first set foot in Iceland, which he called the Ultima Thule; but resting there for a short while he extended his voyage westward until he had traversed the Atlantic and landed on American shores about 340 before Christ, as already explained. There is very little history, however, in support of this claim, though the tradition is deeply implanted.

The second discovery of Iceland is due undoubtedly to a Norwegian pirate named Naddodd, who had been carried out of his course by a tempest on a voyage which he was making to the Faroes. We have also a tradition to the effect that early in the sixth century King Arthur visited Iceland and conquered its inhabitants, which were said to have been Irish. This, like other traditions, however, is scarcely to be credited, although there is considerable proof which historians cannot wholly ignore that both the Irish and the Welsh
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made expeditions to America in about the seventh century. Indeed, St. Brandan, Abbot of Cluainfort, Ireland, who died in 577, is said to have spent 70 years in two unsuccessful voyages in the company of 75 monks, in quest of an island which inspiration told them was a land promised to the saints. This fabled country, which might have been Brazil, was not found, but the great Abbot is said to have discovered two very large islands, one of which turned out to be the back of a huge fish, as the pious annalist relates.

Shortly after the discovery of Iceland, a considerable immigration into that island from Norway was begun, and in 874 it is said to have had 50,000 inhabitants, notwithstanding the fact that its shores are desolate and always ice bound. There was also much in Iceland to excite the superstitious fears of the people, where geysers were perpetually boiling, and volcanoes were belching up their flames as if in an effort to set the heavens on fire. Here too the northern lights scintillated and flickered with ominous import, and gave creation to numerous legends respecting the gods of ice and winter winds.

DISCOVERIES OF ERIK THE RED.

About the year 976, Erik the Red (red-head), whom we must believe was a distinguished man in his country, was banished from Norway on account of a murder which he is said to have committed, and he sought an asylum in Iceland, to which so many of

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his people had emigrated a hundred years before. But here he was also shortly afterwards outlawed in a public assembly, and condemned to banishment. He then fitted out a ship, and went in search of a land which tradition reported had been seen to the north. This voyage was begun in the year 984, and was so propitious that he quickly landed in the new country and there remained for a period of two years, at the end of which time he returned to Iceland, with glowing descriptions of the land which he had discovered and to which he gave the name of Greenland. He reported that its shores were verdure-clad, but the belief is that the name was given in order to attract favorable attention to the country, in which he hoped to found a colony. The result was that, as he had anticipated, large numbers of Icelanders and Norsemen emigrated to Greenland and there founded a flourishing colony at the point where Gotthaab, or Godhaven, is now situated, which not only endured for a long time, but was so prosperous that it was made subject to the crown of Norway. Leif, a son of Erik, returned to Norway in 999, and finding his country converted to Catholicism, he also embraced the faith, after which he took a priest with him and returned to Greenland where he built several churches, the ruins of which may still be seen.

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The Norsemen, as we have said, were excellent navigators, though they had no charts or compass to sail by, but were able to direct their course by a knowledge of the stars; they had, too, the most admirable sea-going vessels which, besides the use of sails, were propelled by oars, yet were capable of crossing the sea in the stormiest weather, though of course not comparable with the crafts which are ploughing the Atlantic to-day. In one of the Sagas of old Icelandic history we have an account of these, in which the keel is represented to have been one hundred and forty feet long, the material used in its construction was of the choicest, and it was provided with thirty-four rowing benches, while the stem and stern were covered with gold. While this description is by no means complete, it affords us an excellent idea of the character of the vessels which they constructed, and incidentally their sea-going qualities.

DISCOVERY OF AMERICA.

Having established such a successful colony in Greenland, Erik the Red in one of his voyages between the two countries met with a disaster which fortunately ultimated in the discovery of America. One of the several vessels which he had laden with provisions for trade with the colonies was driven by a storm so far south-westerly out of its course that the crew came in sight of the coast of a country nine days' sail from Greenland. During this time the ship was enveloped in such a fog and mist that at, no time within the
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nine days was the sun to be seen, or was daylight or darkness distinguishable. When at last the sun appeared there lay before their astonished gaze an unknown land which they knew was not Greenland, because the shores of that country were characterized by high mountain peaks, and rugged and bleak scenery, while the land before them was level, verdant, and inviting. But instead of landing, so eager were they to join the other vessels, which had in the meantime reached Greenland, that the commander, whose name was Bjarue, continued sail, and on his return passed the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, and at last made land at the port in Greenland. While it is impossible to exactly determine the land which Bjarne saw, from the length of the voyage, direction of the currents and appearance of the land, as well as the length of days that are noted, it is more than probable that the shores sighted were Nantucket -- which is one degree south of Boston -- Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Upon this fact the claim is based that Bjarne was the first European whose eyes beheld the shores of the American Continent. A report of the discovery having been made to Erik, that bold rover organized an expedition, and with thirty-five companions set out in quest of the new country about A.D. 1000. The voyage was propitious, and he found and sailed along the coast for several miles, giving to it at first the name Markland, or
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Woodland, which corresponds with Nova Scotia of to-day. But finding no suitable harbor he set out again in the open sea with a south-east wind, and two days later re-discovered land, and put into a sound. This he found very shallow at ebb tide, so that the ship stood dry, and he was unable to pass the mouth of a bay which he saw before him. But in their eagerness to get on shore the Norsemen, clothed in sealskins, flung themselves into the water, and with shouts of glee set foot upon the most verdant land they had ever beheld. When the tide was high they sailed as far up the bay as the water would permit, and casting anchor, they built huts upon the shore in which to pass the winter. They found salmon in great plenty in the waters, and through the winter lived chiefly on this food. But one of the early incidents connected with the landing, as related by the Sagas, is to the effect that among the company was a German named Tyrker, who being the most impetuous of the crew, was not only the first to reach the land, but who made a bold incursion into the unknown country, passing out of sight into the woods where he remained for such a length of time that Erik feared that he had been killed by Indians, which they had seen on shore. But towards evening the German returned, bearing in his arms a great quantity of grapes, a fruit which was quite familiar to him, but was unknown to the Norsemen. He soon explained to his companions, however, the value of his discovery, and they found such great abundance of this delicious fruit that Erik gave the name Vinland to the country. Thus Leif Erikson was the first white man, of whom we have any positive knowledge, that set foot upon the American Continent, if we except the German who accompanied him.

THE KILLING OF THORWALD BY NATIVES.

In the following spring Leif returned to Greenland, making such report of his discovery as greatly excited the Norsemen and infused in them a desire for further exploration. Thorwald, who was a wealthy brother of Leif's, equipped and placed a vessel at his command, in which an expedition was sent out in the year 1002. It is recorded in the Sagas that the party remained on the coast of Vinland for a period of three years, and would have doubtless continued longer but for an unfortunate event, which resulted in the death of Thorwald. The Indians, or as some maintain, Esquimaux, which were called Skraellings, on account of their dwarfish stature and withered appearance, were very numerous and hostile, and at the end of three years, while the company were preparing ampler huts for residences, they were attacked by these Skraellings, an arrow from the bow of one of which pierced Thorwald's eye, giving him a
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mortal wound. The Skraellings were repulsed, but the Norseman chief realizing that he had but a few moments to live, gave his last instructions to his companions, admonishing them of the necessity of maintaining a union that no divisions could separate; for it was his hope that the company would continue to occupy the country and form a permanent settlement, which he had an ambition would become of great advantage not only to themselves but of commercial importance to his country. As death was closing his eyes, he begged that he might be buried there, and that his grave might be designated by two crosses, one at the foot and the other at the head, which request was carried out. His was the first death and burial of a European in America. In proof of this, the Sagas are confirmed by the finding of a skeleton in armor in the vicinity of Fall River, Mass., in the year 1831. It is a known fact that it was the custom among Norsemen to bury their warriors in their armor and with all their war implements about them; and an analysis of the armor which was thus resurrected proves to have been identical with metal used in the composition of the armor of the Norsemen of the tenth century. It also corresponded with them in style, so that there is no ground for disputing its Norse origin.

The death of Thorwald was such a severe blow to the expedition, that instead of carrying out his wishes, the members loaded their ships with the products of the land, and returned to Greenland in the year 1005.

In the same year that the expedition returned, Thorstein, son of Erik the Red, in addition to a desire to recover the body of his brother and give it burial in his own country, was anxious to make another expedition into Vinland, of which the most wonderful reports had been given by the returned crew. He had recently married a lady in Greenland, Gudrid by name, who is distinguished in history as much for her beauty as for her wealth. She seems to have inspired or increased the desire of her husband to visit Vinland and there set up a colony. Thorstein accordingly fitted out a vessel, taking with him twenty-five select men and his wife, and set out to sea on a visit to the new land. But through the whole sail they were tossed by tempestuous winds and waves, and after a voyage of more than three months were driven again onto the shore of Greenland, where Thorstein and several of his men died, and Gudrid returned to her native town of Eriksfjord with his body.

PROOFS OF NORSE SETTLEMENT IN AMERICA.

Two years later, or in about 1006, Thorfinn Karlsefne, who is reputed to have been a very wealthy man and a descendant from the most distinguished families of Norway, visited Eriksfjord in two ships, bringing with him many rich presents to Lief Erikson, and was offered in return the hospitalities of that now distinguished man. Thorfinn soon met the beautiful Gudrid, and falling in love with her,

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besought Leif to secure for him the right of betrothment, which the custom of the country seems to have required. Thorfinn's courtship progressed so favorably that he soon married the fair widow, at whose solicitation he organized another expedition and set sail for Vinland in the spring of 1007, accompanied by his wife and 151 men and seven women, and carrying with them several cows, sheep, goats, and horses.

The voyage was attended with no difficulties, and in a reasonably short time he reached Vinland, where he established a comfortable habitation ,and made his home for a period of three years, during which time Gudrid bore her husband a son which she named Snorre. This was the first white child born in the New World. The colonization was completed, notwithstanding the hostility of the Skraellings, whose attacks were common and serious, yet the party was a brave one and was soon increased by the arrival of others and additional live stock, but Thorfinn and Gudrid returned to Greenland in 1010.

The most conclusive proof of this expedition is found, not only in the historical descriptions given in the Sagas, but by the discovery of what is called the Dighton Writing Rock, which was found in the 16th century on the very spot where the Norsemen had built their huts and get up a tower. Its base is covered by Runic inscriptions and Roman characters, in which is a printed record
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of the fact that here landed a company of 151 Norsemen, the account of the company being given in Thorfinn's name. In the lower left hand corner of the inscription on the rock is also a figure of a woman and child, and also the letter S, which Prof. Rafn declares signifies the birth of a son to Gudrid.

CHURCH RECORDS AND THE KILLING OF A PRIEST.

In addition to the proofs furnished by the Sagas, there are records in the Vatican at Rome which tell us that this colony was provided with a priest named Jon, as a guide for its religious instruction, and who was murdered by Indians whom he had approached in the missionary spirit. The death of this first pioneer priest was followed by the sending over of two others, and soon afterwards a bishop was appointed to the church which had been founded in the New World. In the same records it is related that directly after Gudrid's return to Greenland she proceeded to Rome and announced to the Pope the colonization of Vinland, and no doubt also represented to him the necessity of providing the colonists with a priest. It may also be added that Gudrid went to Iceland after her visit to Rome and entered a Benedictine convent which had been built there by her son Snorre, arid continued in the seclusion of this nunnery until her death. The historian Riant tells us that the Crusades were preached in America in the year 1276, and as Peter's Pence was collected from the colonists and sent to Rome, it is more than probable that some of the hardy spirits joined the Crusaders' ranks, leaving their Vinland Home to fight for the Holy Sepulchre.

The last mention made of the Vinland colonists in the Sagas is the bare statement that in 1347 a vessel was sent from Iceland to the new country for a cargo of building-timber. Up to this time the colony had certainly flourished, and the cause of its sudden disconnection with civilization is an unanswered question. Very singular to relate, while Greenland had enjoyed an equally prosperous intercourse with both Iceland and Vinland, there is no record of the colonies after the close of communication with those who had settled in Vinland. The cause of this interruption and discontinuance is not easy to positively determine, though by no means difficult to conjecture. We know that in the 13th century this commercial intercourse was seriously disturbed by a royal mandate from Norway, which declared that such trade should thereafter be a monopoly of the crown, and which immediately restricted this commercial relation, and possibly led very soon to its destruction.

DISAPPEARANCE OF THE COLONIES.

About the middle of the 14th century the Esquimaux imperilled the colonies in western Greenland, and a growing hostility may have culminated in their abandonment of the inhospitable country. But in addition to this, the Black Plague which overran Europe about this time and destroyed, as is estimated, twenty-five millions of people, also invaded Iceland and Greenland, and as communication had been kept up with the Vinland colonists until this time, it is not unreasonable to suppose that the plague extended also to them. If so, it is probable that the colonists were either totally exterminated by the Plague, or so reduced that the survivors becoming discouraged left their new homes, and returned either to Iceland or to Norway. A phenomenon also occurred in the 14th century immediately preceding the spread of the Black Plague. Great cataclysms in China sunk nearly a tenth part of that country under the waves of the Pacific, and volcanic eruptions destroyed thousands of peoples, buried cities out of sight, and opened vast chasms in the earth from which emanated noxious vapors that poisoned the atmosphere, and prepared the way for the plague which soon followed. There were also violent eruptions in Iceland, which changed the configuration of that land, and extending across to the shores of Greenland threw up a barrier of ice there which might have remained impassable for many years. Thus, confined within a Polar region, unable to raise sufficient sustenance from the soil, and cut off from communication with other countries, the Greenland colonists might have perished. These, however, are but suppositions, though so reasonable as to lend plausibility to the belief that the total and final interruption of communication, as above stated, was due to the absolute destruction of the people. Whatever
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causes led to the extinction of the Greenland colonists must have practically resulted in the destruction of those of Vinland, as the two were bound together by both commercial and national ties; and unless the Vinland colonists had been self-supporting, which it is unfair to suppose, since they were not an agricultural people, the cutting-off of relations with the civilized world must have affected them disastrously, and so reduced their numbers as to have made the survivors an easy prey to the savage Skrællings.